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A Weekly Threat Assessment of the Diplomacy Community

35th Annual Dixiecon

The 35th annual Dixiecon will be held virtually on May 28th-30th, on the vWDC discord channel and using Backstabbr for moves.
There will be single rounds on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. This year, a separate speedboat tournament has been added. More details are available at the Dixiecon facebook page, and you can sign up here.
Conspiracy Adds FvA

The Diplomacy app Conspiracy has added the popular 2 player variant France vs. Austria. Install the app here, and read up on the different opening strategies courtesy of our own RoganJosh, the former #1 player of the variant on webDiplomacy.

The Diplomats Podcast

The Briefing's own Umbletheheep and the ever indomitable Gohornsgo continue their excellent podcast on Youtube with coverage of their games at eCarnage- they were even on the same board twice. Check out their first game together here, and their second game here.

The Champions Corner is where recent tournament winners share a specific move or strategy that they believe helped them to emerge victorious.
 
For this issue, we welcome the victor of the Nexus Cold War, Leviathan.

When I was first introduced to Diplomacy a number of years ago, I was immediately drawn to the tactics of the game. As one who loves tactics more than diplomatic relations, I often played the two-player version on the standard map. However, I soon became bored with the lack of variety that is inevitable in any standard two-player match.


Around Christmas, I discovered the Cold War variant. (For an overview of Cold War, please check out The Briefing’s Cold War Resources page.) While it took me a few games to learn the map, I loved how it was laid out to ensure variety from game to game. For one, there are four theaters on the map, and you are frequently required to make hard decisions about which theater to send units, often at the expense of another. For another, there aren’t really any stalemate lines, making it nearly impossible to seal off entire areas of the map. As a result, each game is much more fluid than any two-player match on the standard map.

The 3rd Nexus Cold War tournament had 50 participants, and each player was placed into two single-elimination 64-person brackets. Each participant was guaranteed a minimum of two games, one as each power. 

I entered the tournament with the hopes of doing well, but had no idea where I ranked compared to other players. As a result, I was a bit surprised to eventually find myself in the finals vs Conq. The finals were set up as a best-of-three series where each player would play once as NATO and once as USSR with a random assignment if a third game was needed.

I played as my preferred power (NATO) in Game 1 and saw the turning point come rather early, in the Spring of 1961 (the game’s second year). But before I get to that turn, let me backup a bit. In the early rounds, the tournament only required participants to post the final board position, allowing players to hide their tendencies. But once players made the quarterfinals, all turns were publicly posted.

As I entered the quarterfinals, I decided to do something completely different from normal and move A Istanbul to Greece instead of my typical move to Ukraine. While it didn’t help me much that game, my intention was to give Conq (who had already qualified for the finals by this point) a false sense of my normal play in case I made the finals.
I ended up doing the same move in the semifinals, although that time was more of a response to my opponent's position rather than any premeditated attempt to further mislead Conq. Regardless, I was now set up to make my preferred move into Ukraine in the finals. Everything worked flawlessly, and Spring '61 ended with my army occupying Ukraine.
In addition to my setup in Europe, I knew that Conq had seen me move F Japan to the Bering Sea in the two prior games. (In contrast to A Istanbul-Greece, F Japan-Bering Sea was my normal move.) I also noticed a tendency in his earlier games to attack Japan with his two fleets in SE Asia. As a result, I decided to move F Japan-Yellow Sea. Fortunately I anticipated his moves correctly and bounced him out of the Yellow Sea.

Those two moves helped me gain three buiIds that year while simultaneously keeping him even. This essentially won me the game, even though it took another two years to officially end it.

The turning point in Game 2 came in Fall 1962 (the third year). As USSR, I lost one home center (Albania) in Fall ‘61, but stayed even with NATO nonetheless. In Spring ‘62, I bounced him out of Ukraine while he convoyed away from Albania, leaving it open for the fall. In addition, I was aggressively pushing my fleets into SE Asia and had unexpectedly moved into Australia, NATO’s only home center in SE Asia.

Going into the fall, I had a couple of decisions to make. In Europe, I could use A Yugoslavia to either attempt to regain Albania or rebounce the likely move to Ukraine. I figured Conq would cover Albania with F Ionian, so I decided that defending Ukraine was my better option.

I also thought he would take Egypt with his army, so I vacated Tunis for the Ionian Sea. Both of the moves worked perfectly, setting me up very well in Europe and the Med.

While I felt like I outguessed Conq in southern Europe, I can’t take credit for the same in SE Asia. I actually expected him to retake Australia from the Indian Ocean. Although I could have (hypothetically) cut Indonesia’s support, I decided to not only let F Australia die, but to vacate important positioning in the South China Sea (which I planned to retake in Spring ‘63) to gain Saigon.

Needless to say, I was very fortunate when Conq retook Australia from Indonesia, simultaneously giving up positioning and handing me a 14-13 advantage. 

While the game was still far from over, those developments in Europe and SE Asia gave me the lead and positioning needed to win Game 2 and claim the Cold War Season 3 crown.

The Virtual World Diplomacy Community hosts regular sessions where a hobby expert hosts a discussion of a topic in which they excel. The Briefing's own strategy correspondent Natty Shafer brings us a synopsis of the talks. This issue he reports on Brotherbored's MasterClass discussion on how to outguess your opponents. Link to the MasterClass archives here.

In a Masterclass on May 9, Blake (a/k/a BrotherBored) led a discussion on the topic of outguessing your opponents. Sometimes in Diplomacy, we refer to guesses in certain situations as a “50/50 guess.” BrotherBored suggests we should delete this from our vocabulary. Very rarely is it going to be a 50/50 guess. Unless your opponent is literally flipping a coin, it is almost never going to be a true 50/50 guess. 

BrotherBored suggests that a better term would be “zig-zag guesses." We should not wrongly internalize the thought process that both “zig” and “zag” have an equal chance of occurring. Your opponent will not assign equal value to either of two outcomes. They will be more likely to protect some territories than others, and they prefer to control particular supply centers.

Furthermore, you should value one outcome more. Not every supply center and territory has equal value strategically. (There are rare exceptions at the very end of the game where a power is pushing for 18 supply centers and control of any 18 centers will end the game equally.) 

It is a useful exercise to assign a value judgement to what each territory is worth (based on country and particulars of the match). Each power should value territories differently. For example, control of the North Sea is vital for England, an achilles heel for Germany, but merely an important territory for France or Russia. Likewise, every supply center is not equal to one another and each power should value them differently. When making zig-zag guesses keep these considerations in mind.

Also, you should be aware of how different centers could affect your opponents' alliance structure.  Once one county in an alliance has met their objectives, are they going to continue with the alliance? Look for opportunities to unbalance an alliance that is attacking you.

Yomi

How do you deal with opponents that have some inkling of what you value? BrotherBored likens this process to “yomi” a word he takes from the world of video games. Yomi is a Japanese word for anticipating the mind of an opponent. Many video games, like Diplomacy, take place simultaneously with both opponents inputting their moves in real time. 

BrotherBored says there are at least three levels of yomi, or anticipating your opponents thoughts, in Diplomacy:

  • Yomi level zero: No attempt to anticipate anyone’s moves.

  • Yomi level one: A move set that only makes sense as a counter to a set of moves anticipated from an opponent.

  • Yomi level two: A move set that only makes sense as a counter yomi level one moves.

You might encounter yomi level zero moves in the opening round of a gunboat game. Because no negotiation has taken place, France, for example, might move all their units towards Spain and Portugal; they are not making an attempt to anticipate what Germany, England, or anyone else is doing and are just moving to pick up supply centers.

Yomi level one only makes sense if you are trying to anticipate what your opponent is going to do. For example, imagine Germany has an army in each Prussia and Silesia while Russia has an army in each Warsaw and Moscow. 

Russia might support-hold Warsaw. Russia’s support-hold orders only make sense if the Russian player is anticipating a supported attack on Warsaw. Otherwise, the Russian player would be better off using their units more actively.

Using the previous example, yomi level two thinking would be if Germany anticipated that Russia was going to support-hold Warsaw and instead ordered Prussia to Livonia and backfilled Prussia with another army.

As the game progresses, BrotherBored recommends categorizing your opponents moves into the various yomi levels. You should do this even for moves that do not directly affect any of your units. This exercise will help you understand the type of opponent you are facing. An opponent who most often uses yomi level one thinking is likely to continue using yomi level one thinking. Make note when other players make yomi level two moves because those are often countered by yomi level zero moves. Making the most obvious move can often foil advanced thinking in Diplomacy.

Keep in mind that the moves you personally would make are not necessarily the moves most people would choose. It is helpful to have a mental model of the most common Diplomacy biases. Many players wrongly assume their own preferred moves are the same moves that all players would prefer.

Also, sometimes players value looking like a good player more than actually being a good player. This can cause players to devalue yomi level two moves because they don’t want to appear to have made a foolish move. Use that to your advantage. Don’t be afraid of looking foolish, but likewise, make note when other players appear hesitant to enter orders that would make them look foolish if they don’t work out. 

Developing your skill at yomi will help you outguess your opponents more than they outguess you.

May

June

May

This issue was brought to you by David Hood. Thank you for the support!
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